Birds Desaster

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<p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>Its the End of the World!: The Paradox of Event and Body in Hitchcocks The Birds</p> <p>Bruno LessardRyerson University</p> <p>After all, what most urgently needs thought in this century, if not the event and the phantasm. - Michel Foucault (1977, 180)</p> <p>The rise of ecocriticism in literary and cultural studies in the 1990s has paved the way for a similar interest in the representation of nature and environmentalist discourses in film studies.1 Expanding on initial interests in Romantic poetry and American transcendentalism, pioneering publications such as Jhan Hochmans Green Cultural Studies: Nature in Film, Literature, and Theory (1998), Gill Branstons Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema (2004), and David Ingrams Green Screen: Environmentalism and Hollywood Cinema (2004) have contributed to introducing film scholars to environmentally oriented topics such as industrialisations impact on endangered species, ecofeminisms critique of mans power struggle with nature, the destruction of ecosystems, instrumental rationality and human beings careless treatment of nature. Given the increasing number of films that focus on the hypothetical destruction of the earth, the retribution of the earth via natural disasters, and the representation of post-apocalyptic environments, we could perceive as only logical the extension of ecocriticism to film studies.1</p> <p>For a concise account of the rise of ecocriticism, see Heise (2006).144</p> <p>Film-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>My intervention in the rapidly expanding field of ecocriticism argues that future work in film studies, while continuing to pay attention to the representation of animals and natural disasters,2 will have to expand its already broad horizons to foreground one concept that systematically underlies writings on catastrophe films, namely, the event. In twentiethcentury philosophy, the concept of the event has occupied a central place in the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze, and Alain Badiou. Nevertheless, as Foucault points out in this articles epigraph, few concepts need more to be at the centre of contemporary thought than that of the event. Nature-oriented film analysis cannot overlook this most debated of notions. Sparked by the increasingly predominant position of event(s) within the contemporary political, media, and environmental spheres, ecocriticism provides us with an opportunity to rethink the relations between the controversial concepts of humanity, nature and animality as they relate to eventness. Yet it seems that critics who have analysed disaster films have bypassed crucial factors that should configure the understanding of this genre. Such films all relating to an implicit concept of the event around which characters and cinematic language gravitate, I aim to show that it is nearly impossible to discuss them without a prior theorisation of the visual production of events in contemporary cinema.3 Considering floods, volcanic</p> <p>2</p> <p>Such recent films form a relatively new genre that is called disaster films, and it certainly takes its roots in 1950s science-fiction films. What disaster and postapocalyptic films such as Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995), Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996), Dantes Peak (Roger Donaldson, 1997), 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002), Time of the Wolf (Michael Haneke, 2002), and 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009) have in common, not to mention the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds depicted in Japanese animation, is their portrayal of a world immersed in the visual representation of destruction or the rendering of an unimaginable aftermath. With the help of digital technologies, morphing, and computer-generated imaging, contemporary filmmakers are able to envision catastrophic events that could only be glimpsed at in science-fiction films of the 1950s. 3 A few film scholars have examined cinema from the point of view of event theory. For investigations of cinema that use a Deleuzian framework, see Bttner and Ries (1997) and Conley (2000). Branston (2007) proposes an interesting concept, issue event cinema, to characterise recent blockbusters that center on climate change. However, he does not philosophically foreground his notion of event. MullarkeyFilm-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615145</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>eruptions, or earthquakes as instances of events will hopefully add to both the theorisation of the event in philosophy and the conceptualisation of natural catastrophes in film studies. In this article I will not be concerned with such disaster films. Instead, I will purposely turn to what could be considered a pre-disaster film, Alfred Hitchcocks The Birds (1963), in order to shed light on the concept of the event as it could be used by ecocritics and to suggest that such a concept is equally pertinent to support the analysis of such a film. I will use The Birds as a case study for circumscribing the filmmakers own theory of the event and compare it to those of Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou. Ultimately, Hitchcocks use of bird attacks will be shown to motivate an understanding of the event as a relational concept that cannot resort to the dichotomy between continuity and rupture that has been advanced in influential conceptualisations. Foucaults admonition to rethink the concepts of the event and the phantasm can fruitfully shed light on the fate of The Birds in Hitchcock studies. Upon closer inspection, one will soon notice that it is the latter term, phantasm, which has occupied centre stage in critical interventions. To the detriment of a theorisation of the event that seems to have been taken for granted, critics have focussed on the films depiction of lifes unpredictability, the maternal superego, threats of castration and fetishism, and the apocalyptic imaginary, among others.4 I argue that it is imperative to turn to the notion of event to actually evade interpretations of the film; indeed, the question What do the bird attacks mean? has occupied critics for decades, but the construction of the attacks as relational events has not been touched upon.5</p> <p>(2009, 182-184) briefly examines Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) from the point of view of Bergson and the event. In this article, when discussing events, I am referring to representations of events in films rather than cinema qua modernist event. 4 See respectively Wood (2002); iek (1991); Modleski (1989); and Perry (2003). 5 As Ian Buchanan rightly remarks, The impossibility of deciding why the events [in The Birds] are taking place calls into question and literally falsifies our standard means of apprehending them. (2006, 138). What Buchanan implicitly argues for is another way of conceiving of the bird attacks, a strategy that cannot resort to approaches based on signification.Film-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615146</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>After a brief introduction to contemporary event theory, I will explore the way in which the event cannot be discussed without recourse to a concept of nature that configures emergence and relationality as crucial determinants in the negotiation of evental situations. More precisely, a theory of the event and nature that circumscribes the coeval individuation of human and bird in relation to modalities of evental experience will be preferred to well-known interpretations of what the bird attacks supposedly mean. The Birds would allow the spectator to watch the difficult emergence of subjects, and the diverse phases and individuations that events provoke would permit characters such as Melanie to reveal the processual and relational genesis of the individual. I will then turn to Hitchcocks use of empty-time to characterise his concept of the event, which discloses a fascinating ambivalence between emergence and the void. An underlying argument will be that the films events show a general movement beyond traditional conceptions of being and human subjectivity, a tendency that relates to various recent critical interventions that have problematised issues of signification and representation.6 I will conclude with some thoughts on the paradoxical nature of the bodies and events that the film constructs in relation to Hitchcocks fashioning of cinematic time.</p> <p>The Event: Two Varying Conceptions In twentieth-century philosophy, the concept of the event has divided philosophers between two opposing stances that could be roughly summarised thus: the thinkers who believe in continuity and emergence, and those who believe in discontinuity and rupture. While the former conceive of the event as a continuous pattern of emergence that stems from becoming,6</p> <p>Indeed, derived from either an enthusiastic encounter with Gilbert Simondons and Gilles Deleuzes writings (e.g., see Shaviro (1993), Gil (1998), Marks (2000), Massumi (2002), and Manning (2007)) or a critical assessment of Deleuze (e.g., see Badiou (1999) and Hansen (2004 and 2006)) several recent studies focussing on movement, affect, sensation, cinema, digital arts, politics, dance, and ontology have subtly questioned the legacy of cultural studies with regard to the study of issues such as race, gender, class, art, and media. Whether it be about pre-individual singularities or generic truths, the traditional notions of being, subjectivity, and body have been radically altered in such work.</p> <p>Film-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615</p> <p>147</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>the latter claim that the event shatters any conceivable present and breaks with the past. The ensuing situation reveals a new world where old coordinates become obsolete. For those who uphold the concept of the event as a prolonging experience, the event translates into pure immanence. While the former conceptualisation is based on Deleuzes meditations on the event, the latter can be said to derive from Badious controversial engagement with Deleuzes thought and from his own conceptualisations of the event.7 The concept of the event has been equally neglected in recent studies of film, technology, and culture. However, given the fact that it is nearly impossible to discuss transformative experiences, modes of emergence, creativity, and embodied human agency without addressing the concept of the event, it does seem imperative to theorise a fluid notion of the event that will pay attention to relationality in all its material and immaterial forms. The potential problem with Hitchcocks concept of the event is that it fluctuates between expressiveness, relationality, radical breaks, and the void. One has to oppose already proposed concepts of the event as a form of emergence or becoming or, on the contrary, as marking rupture or discontinuity in nature,8 for these conceptions would establish a dual or binary mode of experience that does not reveal how The Birds functions. Of course, one could argue that Deleuzes and Badious concepts of the event would shed new light on the film. On Deleuzes account, events have no meaning; they are meaning. Events cannot be reduced to mere effects; they question the causal relation between cause and effect. Moreover, an</p> <p>7</p> <p>For comparative studies of Deleuze and Badiou, see Bostana (2005), Tarby (2006), and Besana (2007). Badiou himself has devoted a great number of pages to Deleuze, one of his major interlocutors with Lacan. See Badious book-length study of Deleuzes philosophy, The Clamor of Being (1999), and his more explicit comparison in Badiou (2009b, 381-387) 8 To draw a parallel between event theory and film theory, Deleuzes and Badious diverging views on the configuration of the event cannot but remind one of the dichotomy Bazin (2000) identifies in terms of the filmmakers who believe in the image (i.e, montage) and those who believe in reality (i.e., the long take and depth of field). Whereas Deleuze seems to believe in continuity characteristic of the long take and depth of field, Badiou privileges the cuts and ruptures that define montage. Badiou mentions this issue in an interview and emphasises that cinema should privilege rupture instead of repetition. See Badiou (2004).</p> <p>Film-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615</p> <p>148</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>event is to be distinguished from its actual effectuation in time and space. Deleuze argues that events take place between time periods, and in The Logic of Sense he explicitly states that The event is coextensive with becoming (1990, 8). The event would thus evade meaning, interpretation, and analysis because it occupies a relational function that alternatively plays with cause and effect to the point of indeterminacy. Deleuze likens the event to a singularity that does not relate to identity, essence, or representation: It [the singularity] is essentially pre-individual, non-personal, and a-conceptual. It is quite indifferent to the individual and the collective, the personal and the impersonal, the particular and the general and to their oppositions. Singularity is neutral. (1990, 52; emphasis in original) Deleuze maintains that events are not problems but redraw the contours of potential problems, their conditions, and their hypothetical solutions. Indeed, the ending of The Birds could be said to show such a state of affairs. The problems Deleuze mentions usually take the form of two questions: What happened? and What will happen? Such an understanding somewhat bypasses the present form of the question: What happens? This double causality stems from the bodies that are involved in the event and in the other events that guide or orient future events. Inspired by the Stoics account of the event and their revision of causal relations, Deleuze will go on to claim that events reveal expression and creation instead of necessity or causality. This could be expressed in the form of What are the expressive rapports between events? or Can one find compatibility or incompatibility between given events? Deleuze claims that such a concept of the event cannot rely on causality because it looks only at effects. What the philosopher ultimately argues for is a serial concept of the event that somewhat eschews causal relations, contradictions, and meaning. The event would then allow the individual to become someone else or at least be given a new perspective on the event: It would be necessary for the individual to grasp herself as event; and that she grasp the event actualised within her as another individual grafted onto her. In this case, she would not understand, want, or represent this event without also understanding and wanting all otherFilm-Philosophy | ISSN: 1466-4615149</p> <p>Film-Philosophy 14.1</p> <p>2010</p> <p>events as individuals, and without representing all other individuals as events. (Deleuze 1990, 178) Pointing to the becoming-event of the individual, Deleuzes serial concept of the event reveals how it stems from the actions and bodies of humans while being differen...</p>